Becoming a sending church
St Luke’s Albury, which is located in southern New South Wales, on the northern side of the Murray River border with Victoria, is a uniquely gifted congregation which has planted several ministries over its 80-year history.
These include Lutheran Aged Care Albury, the largest aged-care provider in the region, and St Peter’s Lutheran Church, in nearby Lavington. St Luke’s also assisted the setup of Australian Lutheran World Service, which operates out of Albury.
Consequently, when the congregation was offered the opportunity to join the LCA’s church-planting initiative, the people of St Luke’s didn’t hesitate. It was a natural fit.
The journey towards partnering with the LCA’s New and Renewing Churches department began several years earlier. After deciding not to merge with St Peter’s Lavington, St Luke’s looked for a new direction. NSW District’s Bishop Mark Lieschke asked me to help St Luke’s consider what this future may be. I was Assistant Bishop at the time and was transitioning out of defence chaplaincy.
… if God calls you to be a specific missional participant in his kingdom, no matter how tough it may get, he always blesses it in ways beyond your wildest imagination.
After opting for a mission-based future, St Luke’s called me as its pastor and began journeying towards being a missional church. Over the next 18 months they contemplated what this kind of church could look like and reflected on the opportunities of doing something new, rather than renovating the old.
The congregation then met with the LCA’s Church Planting Mentor and Mission Facilitator Dean Eaton, and collectively agreed that mission was the focus they wanted to take.
The journey towards being a sending church began in 2016, during which 25 of the congregation’s leadership spent time with Dean to explore what ‘a sending church’ really was.
They began rethinking how they functioned as a congregation and what things they needed to change to have a missional future. Realising a change in their understanding of church was required, they set about enabling this to occur.
In the midst of this conversation, a rental property St Luke’s owned became vacant, and they were challenged with how they might use this to further the goal of being a sending church. From this opportunity, the vision for the Frontier program emerged. This unique training initiative for church planters was innovative and very exciting.
There was recognition that Albury was a microcosm of the LCA, with several diverse congregations, three schools, and a large aged-care ministry. Such a unique mix, within one of the fastest-growing regional areas in Australia, meant St Luke’s could offer a uniquely intentional mix of practice and reflection, within a grace-filled congregation passionate about reaching the unchurched.
God has blessed this vision, by providing St Luke’s with people intent on making the program work, funding from both the LCA and LCANSW, and a range of partners in the church planting and missional education world keen to make this work.
Frontier has energised the congregation with an excitement about what this can do, not just locally, but as a blessing to the larger church.
As St Luke’s began 2017, with Frontier taking shape, two missional communities emerged.
A group of young adults formed around Lachlan McLean, a graduate from Lutheran Youth of Queensland’s Luminate program, who has joined the congregation for the next several years as Frontier develops.
Another group of older members formed around John and Di McClelland, who returned to St Luke’s after spending four years with the interdenominational, international outreach organisation YWAM (Youth With A Mission).
A third group is slowly forming among other congregation members keen to explore their own missional community path.
It would be easy to say this was a smooth journey, but missional ministry is always messy and, as in any community, there are ups and downs at St Luke’s. Satan is not a fan of the congregation, and 2016 saw seven key and much-loved members die, forcing St Luke’s to grieve as a community while still learning to be a sending church.
The community’s members could have easily given up in their sadness, but they persevered, and God blessed that with the joy being experienced so far in 2017.
One of the late members left a very generous bequest to St Luke’s, just so the congregation could continue journeying towards being a sending, mission-focused church.
St Luke’s people have discovered that if God calls you to be a specific missional participant in his kingdom, no matter how tough it may get, he always blesses it in ways beyond your wildest imagination.
As a congregation St Luke’s has learnt that, and is committed with Frontier to share that with the LCA, and with any other church community that can be blessed by their journey as Christ’s sending church.
The LCA’s sending churches goal
New and Renewing Churches has a goal to partner with 10 LCA sending churches to plant 30 new faith communities in the next decade. In early 2015 we started preparing the 10 sending congregations and training church planters and evangelists. You and your congregation can join this church-planting journey with the LCA Board for Local Mission as:
- A Sending Church: This is a church that becomes a ‘parent’ of a new congregation (church plant). A mission facilitator will be provided to journey with each Sending Church for three years to develop a continuous cycle of listening, learning and growing together; or
- A Partner Church: Your congregation might not be able to be a Sending Church, but every congregation can be a Partner Church. Partner Churches provide support to church-planting teams of Sending Churches through prayer, encouragement or finances, and possibly commissioning members to join a church- planting team.
For more information go to the LCA’s website and click on the New & Renewing Churches link under the Departments & Agencies tab, or contact Dean Eaton at email@example.com
Rev Dr David Grulke is pastor at St Luke’s Lutheran Church Albury, in New South Wales.
This feature story comes from The Lutheran July 2017. Visit the website to find out more about The Lutheran or to subscribe.