It has been a very moving time at Pathway as we honored Mike's request for prayer for a kidney donor. In addition we sent the request out to schools, churches, and the St. John Chamber of Commerce. Inside myself I wondered how many years this might take and how worn down Mike's body would be before a donor was found. Meanwhile the Holy Spirit was knocking on our own Tom Kamp to call the donor hot line and begin the process of discovery whether he was a match. Others called too. Meanwhile prayers continued to ripple heavenward, and the God of the heavens answered very quickly. Pathway's own Tom Kamp was a match. The successful transplant surgery occurred on April 21. By April 27 both guys were home and recovering well.
It's been an honor to walk beside both families during this time. I've watched the incredible gratitude of the Bultemas at this great gift. I've also witnessed the sacrificial generosity of the Kamps. Most of all, I'm in awe of our Lord's answer to His people's prayers.
On Tuesday when I visited Mike in Indianapolis he shared a poem with me that he wrote. Enjoy this story from his perch:
One day I got sick
I prayed, "Lord, take this away from me."
He said, "No."
I got sicker.
I said, "Lord, I need a cure."
He said, "No, here's a doctor."
I got a little sicker.
"Lord, I need a miracle."
He said, "No, here is a transplant center."
I said, "I don't have any more energy."
He said, "Here, go on dialysis."
I complained, "I'm missing a lot of work."
He said, "Take the machine home and use it at night."
I said, "I don't think I can do this for five years."
He said, "You don't. In six weeks I'm giving you a new kidney."
I cried, "Lord, things are moving too fast. I don't think I have control anymore."
He smiled, "You have never been in control. I got this."
I simply said, "Thank you."
He said, "I know, I love you too buddy . . ."
Thanks for sharing with us from your perspective, Mike!
Thank you, God, that you are a good and sovereign Father who loves us!
Background: On October 30 I preached a lesson “Reforming the Vote.” I recommended who to vote for and why.
One 13 year old suggested the song after the teaching was the wrong choice. Because I suggested that we vote for God, he thought a better choice would be “Good, Good Father.” We may have a budding worship director in our midst!
A person commented that it was my strongest message in six weeks. I countered with a “thank you,” but also noted that strong messages every Sunday get dangerous. If you agree or are persuaded to see it from the Pastor’s perspective, great! But on a Sunday one doesn’t like a strong message, they are hard to take. So, once in a while is good. Too many are dangerous. Always be real. Always be Biblical. Occasionally be “strong.”
One mom will remember the service forever. Her son, in response to my question ‘Who should the adults vote for?’, said “Mommy.”
One husband threatened to hold me responsible for his wife’s possible ulcer. He said, “She was 99% sure you wouldn’t endorse a candidate. However, that 1% unsure may lead her to an ulcer outbreak this week. I hold you responsible.” My response, “A little creative tension occasionally in a message is good.”
We had a number of new guests at Pathway last Sunday. One came because of a Pathway member’s yard sign. That guest is a new resident of St. John and was hired by a local para-church ministry. Another came because of our relaunch post card mailing from 8 weeks ago. Still another guest of 4x’s told me that she’s praying regularly for me: “I’m praying for your marriage and family.” I responded gratefully to her. Inside myself I wondered how she knew that it had been a couple difficult few weeks with extended family. Then she asked me for advice. I gave a careful answer. Two days later she emailed that she had received double confirmation echoing my advice. I love the Holy Spirit’s work!
Pathway, what a church! You were at your best Sunday, September 18! And your guests noticed. I am still receiving written “spy reports” from the last several weeks, but this I can say from what spies already reported, “You are warm, inviting, and friendly.” They found the worship experience to be relevant and engaging. One well-wisher noted that he was greeted immediately in the parking lot, with the greeter walking over to welcome him. In addition he received 6-8 greetings just going down the hall. Most had fellowship with someone from Pathway. There was one slight area for improvement registered. We need to keep watching for the new person hanging out by himself in the corner. One guy stood for 5 minutes, he reported to me, before someone talked with him. Watch out for those looking to connect. If you ever see me blow by you in the lobby, and I seemingly ignore your smile, I’m probably heading to that person in the corner.
The gym looked as good as it can look. Between the carpet squares, vibrant balloons, and great chair arrangement, it was inviting. The band was on. Guests liked our music. In addition we were organized. Food boxes were handed out after. Footballs were lateraled to guests on their way out. And some guests stayed to give blood. The Red Cross received 18 blood donations which was huge for the blood mobile in a 2 hour span. We also received much clothing.
And most of all, you went for it! You convinced me, when I signed on, that you wanted to be a harvesting congregation. We executed a plan that was very successful for another area harvesting church. We marketed heavily and gave it our all. Better to try great things for God than to sit and do nothing. We went after it in His name. He was praised in us. Well done! And to Him be the glory for all good things that come from our next step.
Where were the unchurched? I believe there were a few, but where were the masses? We were ready. But most didn’t show. Oh to be sure, we had a large attendance, and with those from Pathway who were gone, our attendance could have been stellar. Oh, there were a few un/under-churched. One gal, who donated a refrigerator for the Starbucks-day-old-food-pantry-delivery asked, “Why do you use the word “Catholic” in that creed thing you did?” I know my family experienced several people that didn’t show, but received our invites and don’t have church homes. We’ll keep working it. I hope you will too. And I hope you did do some personal inviting and praying. I’ve reminded you of that for 21 months, “Invite and pray.” Are you doing it?
Now as I voice this, I need to be very careful. It is the Holy Spirit who turns postcard invites into attendance and eventual conversation. It is the Spirit who wakes a mom up to say, “It’s time my kids learn about Jesus.” It’s the Spirit who takes an addict and shows him, “Leave bondage. Know Christ. Be free.” So, who is Joel Zuidema and who is Pathway to wonder why He didn’t do everything we wanted? He is God. We are not. We work for Him. And He blesses the work of our hands as He intends.
I continue to praise God that you are now a church ready for the Samaritan woman, her ex-husbands, and her new boyfriend. You now are informal, warm, and welcoming. That was not always said of us. Sometimes things take time. I have never been a part of a church that had 35 people come to know Christ and 20% growth in a year. But I’ve witnessed the steady dribble of 1 or 2 at a time coming to Christ or returning to faith. I wondered if Pathway will expand rapidly in this densely populated area. That may come. But for now, great worship services, good programming, service to the community, and first name relationships will carry us forward. And we will continue to watch for quality big events like “Come to the Stable” and Mommy’s Haven Princess Tea. We can already see that we’re growing and have the beginnings of some diversity. May God establish the work of our hands, and use us in the harvest. We are relaunched. And now we await the Spirit’s work in softening hearts and bringing them to Pathway. Please continue the rhythms of inviting and praying for the lost.
And by the way, you have guests coming again this Sunday, but please don’t assume they know me. Just be you and enjoy them. Your greeting may be for them the smile of Jesus Himself.
So, I get an email early this morning (last Friday). One of our Pathway members was working at Crown Point Christian School handling the receptionist's desk for an hour during lunchtime. She volunteers at that position occasionally. She “happens” to take a call from a lady who “happened” to hear about a clothing drive on the local Christian radio station Shine 89.7 and is looking for clothing for her family. She said she called the school last week too, but no one knew anything about it. Our member said, “Hey, that’s us! That is my church. I can help you!” She got the lady’s contact information and connected with Pathway leadership. A Pathway leader connected to World Mission representative Chuck Porte with whom we are sponsoring the clothing drive. Chuck said, “I’ll collect a bunch of clothing from our thrift store in gender, size, and age-appropriate fashion and bring them to Pathway on September 25 when I’m promoting the Zoe Waters project, (that’s the offering for water well drilling in the 3rd world).
Praise God, Pathway! And bring some clothing on Sunday for someone else who can be helped by your donation.
So what do we expect to happen on September 18?
I can tell you what I hope from what happened at a friend’s church. Faith Highland relaunched as a joint expression by a Highland CRC and Faith RCA in 2011. At that time it was a church of 150 original worshipers from Highland CRC and 40 additions from Faith RCA. They launched much like we are: They distributed fliers on Labor Day weekend, sent a mailing to moms 25-40 the next week, then sent a mailing to those new to the community just before the launch. They also worked social media and used word of mouth strongly.
Two Sundays after Labor Day they relaunched. The 190 attendees turned to nearly 700 people in one Sunday over 2 services. Many were well-wishers from Faith, and things that morning were too crowded. Also, they relaunched with 2 morning services which spread the numbers out some. The Sunday after relaunch, their “fall back” number was still an incredible 350. That means in 2 Sundays' time, they went from 190 to 350. This spring, they worshiped with roughly 500. Targeted marketing, signage, word of mouth, and Faith well-wishers were essential to this quick growth spurt.
Is that what I expect at Pathway? No, for a number of reasons. First, we have one service. Second, we don’t have the Faith engine to bring well-wishers. And third, we are still in a school which hampers us somewhat. However, I am hoping for a great spurt. I don’t know if we’ll have 200, 250, 300, or 350 that day, but I suspect the Lord will use our efforts to bring some new friends who maybe are returning to faith or will be converts to Christ.
Regardless, this has been worth it. In 21 months you have done 4-5 years worth of work. Small churches don’t usually move fast, but look at what you’ve done and how God blessed it. We have 2 new staff, Stephanie and Paul. Terri is on fire with service project opportunities that will be a big part of the hook for getting relaunch families to return. Hopefully guests will return week 2 to bring back food boxes for poor kids and to bring clothing. Also, the system has been tweaked. We are adding greeters to greet at 2 stations. Soon we’ll be doing hospitality with 2 families at a time. Our logo has been refreshed. We did a targeted marketing campaign. The signs in your yard have St. John residents knowing of a church called “Pathway.” The radio waves and a bill board have been echoing “Pathway.” We have the best small church website around. Now we’ve added Sunday school and expanded family night. The Pathway Kids program has a new leader which will result in increased support and new energy. Meanwhile, behind the scenes a building project plan is beginning to grow. Attendance and giving are way up. There were over 160 people in church Sunday of which only 6 were new guests. Child safety training and greeter training are complete. New signs mark our classrooms. Yes, it’s been worth it. And our newcomers are taking on positions. Just look at the teacher roster for Sunday school!
Meanwhile the fields are ripe. Suncrest Church is about the best around at getting unchurched inside their doors. A few weeks ago they had 300 at a Thursday night service. Pastor Greg has been asking people to switch from the 2nd Sunday morning service to the earlier service on Sunday morning or Thursday night to create auditorium room for new people who tend to come to the 2nd service. Meanwhile over the course of 2 Sundays in August they welcomed 29 newcomer families who visited. So, I’m convinced when the word of mouth about Pathway is great, and we find our stride with marketing and programs, that we too will attract many who are looking for a church home.
So, I’m excited for this weekend. I suspect 200, but wouldn’t be shocked at over 250 or even 300. I’ve invited a host of well-wishers, and you’ve done much inviting too. We’ll see. But regardless, this is the life of faith! We work for our Lord. We dream, sweat, and hope. Then we wait to see what He’ll do. So, no matter what, God has us exactly where He want us. We’ve given our all. He knows. May He now be glorified in us. May His Spirit do incredibly more than we could ever ask or imagine! O Lord, may Pathway please participate in this ripe harvest. And to you belongs the glory forever and ever. Amen.