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Saint Paul Lutheran Church – Bismarck, North Dakota

The short answer to “What’s new?” is “God’s steadfast love and mercy, which are new every morning.” So wrote the Prophet in Lamentations 3:21-23: “ This I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the L ord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (ESV) The context here is important. Those words were written (most believe by Jeremiah) during a time of rejection, decline, and apostasy; and yet still the Lord’s steadfast love and mercy were new every morning.

If success in a congregation is measured in terms of weekly attendance or monthly balance sheets, then most Christians would agree that, according to those metrics, the success of every congregation waxes and wanes. Yet is that an accurate measure? Is it fair to describe a gathering of Christians as “failing” when their membership declines or when they are struggling to pay their bills? Hardly. God requires one thing of His servants—faithfulness. “Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful.” (1 Corinthians 4:2 ESV) Gaining new, like-minded members is God the Holy Spirit’s work, not man’s. It is God Who provides material blessings and moves hearts to generosity. The Apostle Paul reminded us in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” (ESV) Every gathering of Christians that “plants” and “waters” (that baptizes its infants, instructs faithfully in the Word of God, transfers instructed members to sister congregations, and then lays its members to rest when God calls them home) represents an amazing success in the eyes of their Lord. Though the numbers may be unimpressive to the world, God does not see it that way. Jesus reminded us in Luke 15:10, “Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (ESV)

That is not to say that God never tests His children, or that He does not offer situational instruction or reminders. Congregations often need to be shaken from complacency. They need to be reminded that “self-supporting” does not mean that they are no longer “mission congregations.” Every congregation is and forever remains a mission congregation, since that is the Great Commission of every member of every congregation.

Here at St Paul, we have not only been so reminded, we continue to experience countless examples of the Lord’s steadfast love and mercy. Faithful members are laid to rest and transferred, but the Lord of the Harvest continually blesses us with new members through baptism, instruction, and transfer. Materially, the Lord moved the hearts of the members to retire the congregation’s Church Extension Fund note in 2017 and to replace our aging organ with a beautiful Phoenix instrument. To make our liturgy easier to follow for visitors and to enable hands-free worship for parents of young children, two large monitors, on which every part of our liturgy is displayed, were added to the front of the sanctuary. When our original organist of over twenty-five years transferred to another CLC congregation and our only other organist left for college, the Lord graciously and seamlessly provided yet another gifted musician. Our location on one of the busiest thoroughfares in Bismarck helps to provide a steady influx of visitors, with whom we are privileged to share the Word of God on an almost weekly basis.

Numbers fluctuate and faces change. Bank balances swell and decline. The one thing that remains constant, and yet “new every morning,” is the steadfast love and mercy of the Lord we humbly seek to serve.

Organist Angela Pfennig
Pastor Roehl with confirmand Lydia Schiermeister
Timothy and Hope Meyer with newborn son Mattias.

Michael Roehl is pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Bismarck, North Dakota.