Isaiah 63:7 proclaims, “I will recount the steadfast love of the LORD, the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD has granted us, and the great goodness to the house of Israel that he has granted them according to his compassion, according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” This is how I feel nearing the end of 2018. God’s steadfast love has held me fast; He has held our church. I have felt the pains and sorrows more in 2018 than in past years. I have also sensed God’s presence and power among us. Let me summarize my labors under what I believe to be my three main roles: preacher, leader, and shepherd.
Preaching in 2018: I consider the preaching ministry my highest calling. Being a teaching elder for a local church is a tremendous responsibility. Oh, that I would be faithful. And yet I know my fruitfulness does not depend on me. When asked the “secret” of his influential ministry, the famous 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon frequently responded, “My people pray for me.” Thank you for praying for me; continue to pray for the pulpit ministry at Cornerstone. To begin 2018, we finished the book of Galatians, then worked through two short series in 1 Corinthians 15 and the Epistle of Jude, and then Randy and Michael preached 7 sermons from the Gospel of John. I came back from my sabbatical to work through a few Proverbs, moving next to our series on the Marks of the Church. To end 2018, I’ll preach through Psalm 89 during Advent, and then in 2019, I’ll begin working through Exodus and the Gospel of Mark.
Leading in 2018: I am just one player working alongside the elder team, our deacons, and ministry leaders and directors. These are gifted and caring servants. The four big areas we are trying to focus on during 2016-2021 are (1) Broadcasting the Gospel; (2) Maturing the Saints; (3) Equipping Leaders; and (4) Church Planting.
- Broadcast the Gospel: I’m thankful for a few events that brought in new faces in 2018 (the chili supper, moving night, and different Sunday morning efforts). I’m also excited to report that as of October, our church has joined a cohort of other Cedar Rapids area churches (Faith Bible, Cedar Valley Bible, River of Life, Oakland Nazarene, and 1st Nazarene) to grow in the area of Evangelism. It’s a two year process that focuses first on leaders and then later with the rest of the congregation. If you want more info, Google “Church Evangelism Initiative.” This is a ministry of the Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College.
- Maturing the Saints: Sunday morning worship, Small groups, Sunday School for all ages, and youth group are our primary programs for discipleship. Thankfully, much disciple-making occurs outside our programs over coffee, across cubicles, and around kitchen tables. The elders have taken note in recent weeks on some interest among women for a few more ministry opportunities targeted to women. We are trying to talk to a cross-representation of our women and if there is a critical mass of interest, you may see opportunities come together in 2019. Maybe the hunger among the women will encourage the men to find more ways to press on with Christ together in 2019 as well.
- Equipping Leaders: New faces are taking leadership roles. New volunteers are jumping into service opportunities. And yet, leadership development is an area of growth for us as a church family; we’ve never done it well. Thankfully, our new leadership class has just shy of 20 attendees; Lord willing, we offer this class again in 2019. But classes ultimately do not make leaders. The elders are keeping this growth area in mind as we make plans for 2019.
- Planting Churches: Healthy churches birth new believers and new baby churches (think John 15:5). We have had the opportunity in 2018 to encourage and support Harvest City in Iowa City, but we still have hopes of planting a church. We have seen growth in our church numbers in 2018; will we be able to target a city or region in need of a church in 2019? Maybe the Lord will allow us to plant before our 20th birthday in 2021.
Shepherding in 2018: This year has been full of shepherding challenges. We had a bittersweet farewell to several key members (mostly related to moves). Charles Stuelke passed away. Some marriages dissolved before our very eyes. The elders have taken active roles in various other situations. Shepherding a church is not for the faint of heart. I don’t even want to guess where my heart would be without the sabbatical you gave me and my family this summer. Thank you so much for caring about our spiritual and emotional health (and sanity :).
A few closing highlights:
#1: To begin 2019, the elders are asking every member (and interested attendees) to join us for 4 Sunday night prayer gatherings in January. We want to start the New Year with intentional, fervent prayer and worship as a church family.
#2: My role as the Marion Police Chaplain has been a huge blessing. In the past year, I was able to help lead a Bible study, perform an Officer’s premarital counseling and wedding, do a number of ride-alongs, teach on the importance of marriage at a quarterly training for all the officers, serve a grieving family, pray over several officers, and my small group fed over 50% of the MPD employees one morning with something we called Chaplain Chow.
#3: We may go to Ukraine. Steve and Meg Collier have asked Cornerstone to send a specific team to help with a conference for all the Ukraine Missionaries from Send International in August 2019. I may bring some messages of encouragement; we may put together a worship team; and they also need help with childcare. Details to come! PRAY, PRAY, PRAY!
May Christ hold us fast; may we hold out Christ to our cities, neighbors, and friends.
-Pastor Matt Proctor