Church #18. Meet Brian Hughes. He is the solo pastor at St John Lutheran Church in Columbia, Maryland. With an average worshiping attendance of 300 people on a given Sunday, St. John empowers their congregants to reach out.
Hughes’ community asks two questions: “What is God saying to me?” and “What am I going to do about it?” To answer these two questions, St. John reflects on what Jesus did in Luke 6. Jesus goes UP the mountain to pray, he went IN to call the disciples to himself, and OUT into the world to serve.
“This up-in-out idea,” Hughes says, “is about having a balanced pattern of relationships.” St John encourages its community to spend time in three ways – in prayer and worship to God, in community with each other, and in discovering their mission in the world. Speaking of patterns, here are a few that have (re)shaped St. John’s community:
FAITH5: St. John was one of the first churches to integrate Rich Melheim’s FAITH5 into the life of the people. This simple five step pattern of share, read, talk, pray and bless has helped families through a healing process. Hughes tells the story of one of his parishioners, who is a single mom. With the dad not engaged, she has her hands full with work and kids. One day at worship, she and the kids lit a candle for a friend. This mother wept as the candle burned. Friends and extended family are lifelines for single moms. But this friend was near death. FAITH5 enters the scene. After 18 months, they are still lumped together each night. It’s through this pattern of 5 steps that this single mom is creating resilient kids. They talk about real issues as they share their highs and lows. It’s a place where the kids feel that they are cared for and heard.
LAY PASTORS: Up, in and out has created another pattern with the St. John’s community. It’s the process of creating lay pastors. People who are not ordained in Word and Sacrament ministry but who are called to serve the church. Currently, there 30 lay pastors who bring communion to the homebound, make hospital visits and do funerals. Traditionally, it’s been up to the pastor to visit, commune and bury. But with lay people being equipped and empowered to lead, this creates a new pattern for ministry within the church. “It’s a growing ministry!” says Hughes. “Soon we’re building out a first-generation coaching huddle with pastors and laity from around the US.” (Check out the Rethinking Church event at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota as Brian Hughes will be there speaking about this Lay Pastor ministry.)
Messy Church has started to happen once a month at St John’s. It’s a new pattern on how to do worship! Messy church is a worship model that allows families of all ages to explore faith hand’s on. Sometimes, it’s even a little messy!
It’s a new time and place for the church as old patterns die and give way to new ones. As Hughes says, “The work of the church is like time; it doesn’t stand still but should always be advancing.”
Why do these patterns matter to the church? It matters because of what happens to Jesus in Luke 4. Jesus is “lead into the desert” and tempted by the devil. But is “sent out of the desert” filled with the Spirit. He began his ministry in Nazareth, where he was rejected as a prophet in his hometown. Finally, Jesus healed the mother-in-law of Simon. It’s here where the shift happens. His activity becomes missional (cf. Isaiah 61), and people become the extended family of Jesus.
Hughes says, “We don’t do extended family very well.” But by shifting the pattern, it changes things. People begin to talk (FAITH5) to connect (lay pastors) and worship in new ways (messy church). Church becomes a safe healing place where extended family come together.
For more information about this story, please contact Brian Hughes at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-799-8888.